Thursday, October 13, 2016

Not funny

     "For if obrazovat’sia is not a neologism, then one must ask what it is that gives Stiva such pleasure. Not that the word is somehow a new one but rather that it is, for him, an agreeably apt use of an old one, a word that proposes a sort of indifferent, in-the-natural-course-of-things resolution for his distress—an easy, perhaps even slightly cynical abstracting by his friend and servant of the fraught human circumstance in which Stiva’s casual moral ineptitude has placed himself and everyone else, and the implications of which he has not fully grasped, as Tolstoy shows us again and again.
     "Matvey has offered him a comfortable lexical evasion, so to speak, a 'nice little word' ('slovechko,' as Stiva says in very colloquial Russian) that he can, moreover, eventually include in a story for effect (more evidence of his skewed moral orientation, of his aesthetic view of life), and that almost punningly represents for him that the situation with which he is faced is merely a formal one, an idea that the rest of the novel will of course in various ways refute. The word, which was thus for Tolstoy a kind of thematic pivot or node, essentially means, as Garnett correctly indicated, that things will work out, will come out all right in the end; that chaos will sort itself out and the previous form and arrangement of things and relations will return, almost by themselves and unscathed, in the 'inevitable rhythm' of life, as the charming but shallow Stiva self-indulgently conceives it."

     Judson Rosengrant, "To the editors," The New York review of books 63, no. 14 (September 29, 2016):  93.


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